Love Lingers Here: Intimate Enduring Relationships — Essay II: The Couple as a Third Entity
As we shall note repeatedly in telling and analyzing the stories of enduring couples, certain key events tend to inform partners in a relationship that the “couple” does exist and that they constitute this new entity. The key events might be marriage, moving in together, buying a house together, or having a child. The reality of this new entity is reinforced by social and legal custom. The “couple” gets invited to parties, is asked to join clubs, is requested to file a joint tax return, and in some states is required to jointly own all property. At certain critical moments in the lives of members of a couple, their attention is redirected toward the “couple” entity. Often this occurs when one or both members is struggling for his or her own sense of individual identity and seeks to find it at least in part through relationship with a partner.
At other times, the couple’s identity is in the background. Members of the couple focus on their own personal or vocational concerns, or the couple becomes a subset of an even larger entity, the “family”. The life of a couple is obscured by the advent of children or the turbulent world in which they live. The couple, however, will periodically become a focal point again, when personal or vocational concerns wan, when a member of the couple seeks solace from the strains of these individual pursuits, when other members of the family move out of the home, leaving the father and mother to once again establish their own identity as a couple, when the two partners must travel to a new land and establish a new life together.
It is precisely in this expansion and contraction of one’s awareness and concern for this relationship with another person that the most interesting and important development of the couple takes place. This development becomes very complex, for it is not only interwoven with the individual development of each member of the couple, but also perceived differently by each member of the couple, as each member brings his or her own perspective to bear on the nature and dynamics of the relationship.